Putin Replaces Navy Chief Igor Osipov After Moskva Flagship Sunk

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed a new acting Navy commander, replacing former Navy Chief Igor Osipov, who had overseen the invasion of Ukraine until now.

The Kremlin doesn't often officially report on replacements within the ranks of its military and armed forces, so this announcement published by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS is particularly surprising.

Osipov was in charge of operations when the Russian Navy lost its flagship, the Moskva, in April. The destruction of the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was a huge blow to Moscow and its troops in Ukraine.

The sinking of the missile cruiser—for which Kyiv's troops immediately claimed responsibility while Moscow said it was due to an accidental fire—was the biggest vessel loss suffered by Russia since WWII and a major setback in the invasion of Ukraine.

 Viktor Sokolov and Igor Osipo
This combination shows Russian Navy Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov (L) and Igor Osipov (R), who he is reportedly replacing. Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently looked to promote a new commander of the Black Sea Fleet following the sinking of the Moskva flagship earlier this year. Mil.ru/AP

While there's still a lack of clarity over the events that led to the Moskva sinking (Washington backed Kyiv's claim that its troops targeted the ship), much has been said over the way the destruction of the flagship has likely undermined Russian capacity to take control over the Black Sea in its war against Ukraine.

Snake Island, which had been occupied by Russian troops in February with the help of the Moskva, was taken back by Ukrainian troops in early July.

It's not clear yet if the appointment of Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov as the acting commander will be confirmed officially in the future or whether the man is only covering the Navy chief role until another candidate is chosen.

Newsweek reached out to Russia's defense ministry for comment.

What Do We Know About the New Navy Chief?

Sokolov is a Vice Admiral who graduated from military school in 1985 and served in various, unspecified fleets after that, including the Northern Fleet between 2013 and 2020, according to TASS.

From 2020 on, he held the post of head of the Admiral Kuznetsov Naval Academy.

The agency quoted him as saying he had been appointed acting commander at a gathering with young officers on Friday. He reportedly said that he was appointed to perform duties by an order of the Russian Minister of Defense dated August 10.

How Is the Black Sea Fleet Performing in Ukraine Without the Moskva?

On Tuesday, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) said that Russia's Black Sea Fleet is continuing to pursue "an extremely defensive posture, with patrols generally limited to waters within sight of the Crimean coast."

Despite the fact that Moscow troops continue launching attacks on Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, says the British MOD, the Black Sea Fleet "is currently struggling to exercise effective sea control."

"It has lost its flagship, MOSKVA," the MOD wrote on Twitter. "A significant portion of its naval aviation combat jets; & control of Snake Island."

"The Black Fleet's currently limited effectiveness undermines Russia's overall invasion strategy," partially because Moscow troops cannot now launch an amphibious assault on Odesa, the port city which was considered one of Russia's main targets in Ukraine," the MOD said. "This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere."

Meanwhile, fighting continues near Zaporizhzhia, with Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of escalating tensions around Europe's largest nuclear power plant.